Oct 14, 2012

Taking Your Time — And the Real Cost of Sewing

I suffer the same malady that I'm guessing some of you do: impatience, particularly when sewing something I'm excited about. It sets in about the time I can see how a project is going to turn out. So I can take cutting slowly, matching prints up at the side seams carefully. I prepare my machine properly, cleaning out lint and oiling it, as well as changing the needle to suit the fabric. But as soon as I sew a couple bodice pieces together and hold them up to my body, something comes over me — and I become an impulsive, shortcut-taking sewing hulk, pressing down harder on my sewing machine pedal: Me want to wear new dress. MUST. FINISH. NOW!

It's a powerful force that trips me up occasionally. It keeps me from reading instructions thoroughly. It makes me forget rows of topstitching. Ensures my gathers are not distributed equally.

In order to keep this impulse in check, I have to be very strict with myself. To illustrate, I'll share how I'm keeping myself from screwing up  Vogue 1212 — a "Today's Fit by Sandra Betzina" pattern, which I started working on this weekend.

I got this pattern last winter during one of Vogue's sales, for just $3.88 (score!). I love the classic princess seams and flared skirt paired with the sporty collar and three-piece sleeve. I see a lot of potential in this pattern (especially after making a muslin, which I will get to later). Here's the line drawing of Option B:

I'm using this white and silvery blue plaid wool blend, which I got from a former neighbor who was culling her stash during a move. I've had on hand it for a few years, but always thought it too "Chanel-suit-wearing-ladies-who-lunch" for me. If not for my friend Lizzi, who has said time and again how much she loves this fabric, I probably would have given it away. (She has cute style, so there must be something there I wasn't immediately seeing). Plus I have no budget for new fabric right now, so I'll give it a shot. I have five yards of it, so there's more than enough to ensure good plaid matching at the seam lines:

All that said, here are my rules for better sewing:

1. Don't sew something today that you need to wear tomorrow (unless it's something you have sewn several times before, or is a jersey miniskirt). Because that's when you end up setting a purple zipper into a black dress because you didn't plan ahead and purchase all your closures. 

2. Read all instructions BEFORE beginning to sew. This prevents me from forging ahead when I think I know what's next, and then backtracking later after I've flubbed up construction in some way. There is more than one way to set in a sleeve, and the pattern may tell you a different way to do it than what you are accustomed to FOR A REASON. (A reason that you will not learn until three steps later...at which point you will find yourself cursing, seam-ripper in hand).

3. If sewing something more complicated, set a daily limit on the number of steps you are to accomplish. It's like giving yourself a set number of chapters you can read before bed, lest you find yourself finishing the whole book at 3 a.m. Do I have a problem with impulse control? Only when it comes to wholesome things like reading and sewing. No judgement.

4. Make a muslin. This step forces me to do No. 1, 2 and 3, essentially. It requires planning ahead enough to allow time for a test garment, so I don't start sewing something hours before I want to wear it. It forces me to not only read the instructions and follow them, ensuring I won't make any stupid mistakes on the precious fabric I intend to use for the actual garment (I can make those dumb mistakes on the muslin). And it gives me a better sense of how to break down the steps, which allows for good pacing. PLUS, it's satisfying enough to try on a muslin that fits well that it tides me over until I can carefully work through all the steps on the actual garment.

Which brings me to my muslin for Vogue 1212:

I love the seaming on this. I plan on drafting a hood to go with this for a future collar-less version, and maybe even taking out some ease, dropping the neckline, sewing up the middle and adding a back zip for a dress version. I like the proportions and the way it hangs. I can totally see it as a dress:

Is that fabric familiar? It's from IKEA. My friend Lizzi gave it to me. Like, a million yards of it. I've used it for so many things now: a jumpsuit for my pattern making class more than a year ago

I thought it made me look like a clown, hence the juggling. I also made a version for my daughter. It was much cuter on her:

I also think it pays to be aware of the actual length of time it takes to sew something. I usually have no clue how long it took me to make something, because I'll work at it over a few sewing sessions, cutting the pattern out one night, and the fabric the next, sewing the bodice one day, and the skirt on another.

It all adds up though, and I think all that time is what gives our handmade things more value (and not rushing is clearly the key for me, at least, in making my me-made garments look less Becky Home-ecky. It also pays to know how long it takes to make something, so that when someone suggests you  make them a jacket, you can say, "Sure, it will only take me 15 hours!" (And cost $50 for the materials).

That in mind, I've resolved to keep better track of the true cost of sewing each garment, by keeping a running tally of the materials used and their purchase price, as well as the time contributed.

So far Vogue 1212 has cost me: $3.88 for the pattern (purchased on sale from Voguepatterns.com), and zip for the fabrics, which were donated to me by friends. (I will have to purchase lining fabric, three zippers and some interfacing, however, which I have yet to do. Wednesday is a professional development day for Lucy's pre-K, and I plan on dragging her downtown. Wish me luck).

I spent 40 minutes cutting the paper pattern, and an hour and 20 minutes sewing my muslin test garment (which is not lined, and does have closures, etc). So my running tally of time and money is $3.88 and two hours.

What about you people? What rules do you set for yourself when it comes to sewing?


  1. My rule is that after my daughter goes to bed, I can't sew unless I have the groceries that I need for the next day. Also, if I'm not making a muslin, the first time I make a pattern I have to use thrifted material. If I am making a muslin, the real fabric doesn't get bought until I am happy with the muslin - this prevents me from being so anxious to cut into the good stuff that I just say "good enough" and promise that now that I know what the fit issues are, I'll just work them out when I sew together the fashion fabric (hah!).

    1. Very smart, Sara! It's like not having chocolate in the house....you can't sew it if it's not there. Happy to hear someone else has extreme measures to combat impulse control issues!

  2. I find that i m pretty patient with my sewing, and slow too... I read my instructions ahead, prepare muslin from my thrifted fabric stash when im working with difficult patterns or the ones dont know if im going to like on me. But i hv a hard time controlling my impulse from adding things to a pattern. Like piping, and stuff. Just adds up to an already slow process.and thats why sometimes i dont even get to the stage of cutting into the 'actual' fabric that i initially planned to use, because project A became project B!

  3. An idea for keeping track of the time you spend sewing: set an electric clock for 12:00. Plug it in when you start sewing, unplug it when you leave. When the project is done, it will tell you how many hours you spent on it.

    1. I like that idea. I also thought of using a stopwatch, and starting and stopping it every time I work on a project.

  4. yeeeeesssss! i am totally guilty of sewing impatience. sewing something you need to wear tomorrow?? ha! i've repeatedly sewn things i needed to wear *that night.* not reading all the directions - check. setting a daily time limit - only is that daily time limit is 24hrs. Yeah, and I almost always stay up until all hours of the night to finish a book. I do sometimes make muslins, though, if I know it's a difficult design. oh, and I don't like to count how much a project costs me because i know most projects cost more than what i could buy at target and it'll just make me depressed. oh well, sewing is fun, right!

  5. the only time i really kept track of my sewing time was when i made some lined kids robes for a friend. when a non-sewer asks you to make things they have no idea what the time investment really is! i've certainly had to learn patience about not rushing through projects, though i've had enough failures or lackluster results to help keep me in check. right now, i'm trying to not rush through my winter coat...

  6. I love the muslin. The lines on the coat are so cute. Can't wait to see the final project.

  7. Love this post! I like all your tips for slowing down and making sure that you do a great job. I've definitely been guilty of rushing to finish something that I needed to wear, and I've never worn those things again because of problems with them.

    Love the muslin! The coat is going to be FAB!

  8. I used to get really excited when I start to see it all come together that I stay up all night to finish the garment!

    This was really bad becos the last steps of final fitting, inserting the zipper and hemming were my worst efforts. I would be sleepy, hungry and sloppy.

    So many times I've ended up with dresses that ended up too small becos my final fitting was at 5am and my stomach was empty... so the next day after a nice meal, the dress would be too tight!!

    Other times I've have badly inserted zippers, zipper teeth getting caught and fabrics getting destroyed when I try to rip zippers off! :(

    Then there are the hems that are rushed and ended up having to be redone anyway :(

    My rules now are to plan and do only a few hours at a time and to STOP sewing once I get sloppy and impatient. So far working out well!!

    PS I'm a new follower to your blog found u via Dapper Duds :) Really enjoying your blog so far x



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